NTEU at Sydney Uni backs the academic boycott of Israeli universities

Sydney University staff have passed an unprecedented motion that will push forward the movement in Australia for the boycott, divestment and sanction of Israel, through the campus branch of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU).

An overwhelming 93 per cent of members at the meeting voted in favour of a motion calling on the university to “cut ties with all organisations that enable the current Gaza violence” including “all Israeli universities” as well as “with the weapons industry and militaries in general”.

Almost 350 members attended, in the largest union meeting since June last year.

The branch now expects and encourages its members to implement the institutional boycott of Israeli universities, and has called for the university community, other union branches and the NTEU as a whole to do the same.

This is an enormous step for the Sydney University NTEU, which has debated the question of Palestinian solidarity for more than a decade. The academic boycott has been hotly contested, with the then-NTEU General Secretary previously flown in to shut down the discussion in 2014 and implore members never to discuss it again.

The result will boost other NTEU branches across the country, emboldening branches to spread the academic boycott and adding pressure on higher union bodies to do the same.

It is also significant for the academic boycott movement internationally. The motion was carried almost exactly 20 years after the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel was initiated in 2004, and the NTEU Sydney Uni branch joins the Teachers Union of Ireland and two graduate student worker unions in the US, as well as a host of academic associations, in officially adopting it.

In an endorsement delivered to the meeting, the Australian representative of the General Union of Palestinian Workers called the motion a, “Material step forward for the cause of Palestinian rights amidst this historic genocide.”

Complicit

As Maya Wind’s new book Towers of ivory and steel shows, Israeli universities are deeply complicit with the Israeli state and military. They train Israeli Defense Forces soldiers, develop weapons, produce state propaganda, and grant benefits, scholarships and course credits to returning Israeli soldiers. As she concludes, “Every day, Israeli universities make this genocide possible.”

There is still plenty to be done at Sydney University to turn our demands into reality, such as cutting ties to the Zelman Cowen Academic Initiative, cancelling the “Experience Israel” (OLES2155) course, and cutting the deep ties with the weapons manufacturer Thales. The branch also voted to endorse the student encampment currently on the Sydney University lawns and to defend it if attacked.

But this is an important first step in lighting a fire under the Australian union movement. After the fall of apartheid in South Africa, Nelson Mandela came to Melbourne Town Hall to thank the union movement here for being one of the first to take industrial action against South African ships.

We have a lot of work to do if we ever want similar thanks from Marwan Barghouti or other Palestinian leaders when they are released from Israeli prisons.

There is a clear lesson here for unionists that taking a stand against genocide is core union business. Some members feared that the discussion would distract the union and drive members away.

Far from being a liability, Thursday’s meeting was the largest since our strike campaign ended in June last year.

Union activists ran a highly visible campaign to build the meeting including leafleting university gates, banner drops and contacting members. Months of campaigning for Palestine since October that seemed isolated at times has delivered solid support.

Although a very small number have left the union in protest nationally in the last eight months, at the time of writing at least 15 have joined at Sydney University in the last two days, and many more since 7 October! Several members told the meeting they joined precisely because of our stance on social issues such as Israel’s genocide.

NTEU members have taken an important step—in a boost for unionists everywhere seeking to boycott Israeli apartheid and end the genocide.

By Sophie Cotton

Magazine

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